THE BASICS: HEATHERS THE MUSICAL, the 2014 Off-Broadway hit by Laurence O’Keefe & Kevin Murphy inspired by the 1988 cult favorite movie “Heathers,” presented by American Repertory Theater of WNY, directed by Candice Kogut, runs through September 22, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 7. NOTE THE LOCATION! ART will present HEATHERS at the “Phillip Sheridan Building” 3200 Elmwood Avenue north of Sheridan Drive. Parking behind the building. goo.gl/maps/MuBhitgvoyE2 (716-983-4345). www.artofwny.org
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Addressing the dark topics that American Repertory Theater loves to explore, HEATHERS is about high school pre-marital sex, blue balls, clue-less parents and school administrators, bullying, drinking, body shaming, teen suicide, guns, and violence. The story follows 17-year-old nerd Veronica Sawyer who is upset by the brutal hierarchy of high school but ends up adopted by the most powerful clique in school – “The Heathers” – head cheerleader Heather McNamara, yearbook committee head Heather Duke, and “mythic bitch” Heather Chandler. Veronica tries to have a relationship with new boy at school “J.D.” but things get out of control resulting in murders dressed up to look like suicides and more.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Using the school auditorium of the former “Phillip Sheridan School,” now re-purposed as the “Phillip Sheridan Building,” was a stroke of genius. And as it turned out, on a Saturday night, much of the audience was the same age as the actors, high school seniors along with college underclassmen, so that the entire experience felt authentic.
Candice Kogut is, I believe, one of those directors who lets each actor discover their roles for themselves and it paid off handsomely. Each actor completely inhabited his or her role, stayed in character, and so in this production, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, since each of those parts were so well developed.
As to a who’s who, freshman in NU’s BFA Theatre program, Madalyn Teal plays Veronica with a rock-solid voice, poise, acting chops, you-name-it, she’s the real deal and hopefully we’ll get to see her over the next several years. A sophomore at Fredonia’s BFA Theatre program, Joe Russi is well-matched to Teal in the role of the troubled Jason Dean or “J.D.”
Talia Mobley is Heather Duke and uses her actor’s chops to be at the same time a Heather with attitude and #2 (or #3 depending on the scene) to the mythic bitch. Well played. And Kelly O’Hara is Heather McNamara, rounding out the devious and evil trio.
Portraying the “two jocks” Parker Welling does well as Kurt but Jake Grear really steals scenes as Ram. (If Jack Black and Jonah Hill had a love child, he’d be it.) And two women really wowed the audience. Kaeli McGinnis as the shy and dowdy Martha Dunnstock (“Martha Dumptruck”) really opens up in her solo number “Kindergarten Boyfriend” leaving everyone reaching for a Kleenex and Katy Miner does something similar in “Shine a Light” when she puts her head back and hits those high notes. Damn!
But the most striking figure all evening was Carly Luksch as the “mythic bitch” Heather Chandler. She is by trade a movement consultant and was the choreographer for this show. Every move she makes is measured and solid and dripping with attitude. You always knew who was pulling the strings. All of that and she had to come up with moves for 21 different people in this show. It all worked.
Emma Siddon’s costumes are also worth mentioning. They gave off the flavor of the original movie but were not dated.
If you recall the excellent pit band for ART’s JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and how tight they were with the performers, you’ll want to know that Musical Director Don Janczka is back!
On your way to the theater pick up a bag of corn nuts. They are mentioned in the show and you’ll want to have some at intermission. Unfortunately, on the night I went, the concession stand was out! And, don’t expect too much of the sound system. I was disappointed at not being able to hear the lyrics which in this show (think THE BOOK OF MORMON) are wicked and foul mouthed and you won’t want to miss a single word, but, until ART gathers the funding for a new system, that’s the way it is.
I enjoyed this show and I would Google the lyrics before I went again, just because, and this is unfortunately not limited to ART, the sound system doesn’t do the singers justice.
Photos courtesy American Repertory Theater of WNY
UP NEXT: Sam Shepard’s FOOL FOR LOVE directed by Kelli G. Natale (October 25-27 and November 1-17) at 545 Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo (between Utica and Lexington, the old “Theatre Loft”).
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!